Nov. 22, 2013

National Recycling Week 2013 at the Hub

Fiona rose early, walked over to the window, opened the wooden louvres, and said: "Hmmm... yes... looks like we'll be moving the outside stuff inside". As if to emphasise her deduction, yet another heavy deluge fell from the low, dark clouds to again innundate Sydney's Eastern Suburbs.

It was probable that the others involved in organising the day's activities — Tina Dimetrou from The Event Consultant, and council waste education staffers, Matshepo and Guada, were thinking much the same as Fiona that morning.


Come mid-afternoon, tables and chairs had been set out, the projector and screen put in place, the hot water urn turned on and the coffee presses filled with their aromatic, stimulating grains. 

All that was needed now were people, however the weather was likely to limit their presence, the organising crew thought although a few early birds had arrived and handed over their goods for the community swap. Now, with start time upon us and the rain falling in earnest, it appeared that even moving the swap inside rather than having it outside as planned wouldn't be enough to tempt people out of their warn, dry homes.

Then, surprise. All at once people started to walk through the door bearing stuff for the swap. This was exchanged for trading tokens and Annette Loudon, one of Sydney's more knowledgeable people when it comes to community swaps and community trading systems, sorted the offerings on the tables according to type. True to form, I thought. There must be some law of physics that stipulates that people arrive just on starting time or a little later.

The swap was scheduled for an hour's time and before that Fiona and Tina got people together in the seating circle for a conversation on the collaborative economy, also known as the sharing economy. I had led one of these the previous year in weather quite the opposite of todays.


While Leesa Maree worked with children making crafty-like things in the 'creative corner' and while others were busy with community artist, Karen Weiss, making mosaic pavers for placing as stepping stones in the forest garden, I started the conversation by asking people from the community organisations exhibiting at this afternoon's event to say who they were and tell us a little about the work of their organisation.

That's how participants got to learn about Transition Randwick, Permaculture Sydney East with their seeds and seed bombs, the collaborative economy agencies Open Shed and LETS (Local Exchange and Trading System), eXpertLocal that links the curious with experts for inner city adventures and to learn about the Thermomix with Cindy Alice, a kind of multipurpose device for preparing food. 

With Annette from LETS (Local Exchange and Trading System) and Lisa Fox from Open Shed we started to explore the collaborative economy... what is it, how the different systems work, what might go wrong (people seemed particularly fixed on this at first, until they learned very little went wrong) and how they could participate. The full hour and more allocated to the conversation went overtime such was the interest of participants and because I had neglected to bring a watch to track the time. I knew it was up when Tina started to direct what clearly were wind-up signals at me. 

We avoided the presentation mode of so many events like this and structured it as a conversation. Randwick Council staff have held other conversations around particular themes and once they get going and people feel free to actually participate (they are used to presentations with a few minutes afterwards in which to ask too-few questions) they get into the spirit of the thing. It's an opportunity to talk openly with people actually making these things happen.


In my brief education in placemaking I had learned that one of the main functions of cities is exchange. We had already exchanged ideas in the collaborative economy (another means of exchange) conversation. Now it was time to exchange hard physical goods like used (but clean) clothing, DVDs, children's toys, kitchen stuff and a myriad other things that had been laying around unused in homes. 

People had already had time to peruse the offerings arrayed in like clusters on the tables. Now, their tokens in hand and with token collectors standing by, the countdown to commencement of swapping saw people move to stand beside the stuff they wanted. Then, the go! signal, a scurry of activity and the inevitability of two people wanting the same thing. Time to make use of the official adjudicating method — scissors, paper, rock. Tina, Matshepo and Guada were kept busy as people exchanged their tokens for goods.

I've helped with a number of community swaps and they're always fun... watching people look around in the hour or so before the swap, picking things up, considering whether they really do want whatever it is, checking things out. Then there's the anticipation of the few minutes preceding the start of swapping... anticipation and tension are in the air... then the burst of activity when go! is called. It's good fun, really.


Swap over, the afternoon rolls towards evening as Tina and the others organise people to help prepare the food — these Randwick Council afternoons are really DIY affairs when it comes to eating. 

Fortunately, there are always people who know about preparing food and, today too, about cooking the chick pea patties on the barbecue outside. Children really seem to get into food preparation, an potential opportunity seemingly ignored at home by time-poor parents. 

There were plenty of leftovers from the shared meal and it was good to see people take home the fresh, organic, Sydney region oranges and apples supplied by the community supported agriculture scheme, Sydney Food Connect.


Randwick Council's sustainability crew have shown interesting videos on previous occasions and followed them with a facilitated discussion. It's a format people like.

Tim Silverwood

Tonight's video — Trashed, about waste and solutions to it — seemed to engage people. It helped to have Tim Silverwood to introduce the video and to participate in the discussion afterwards. Tim founded Take 3, a community organisation that campaigns for litter-free oceans and encourages beach visitors to pick up three items of rubbish (picking up more is encouraged) to keep our beaches clean. 

A focus of Take 3 is reducing the use of plastics as it is these, often degraded into tiny particles, that are ingested by sea creatures and that foul the water we swim in.

It's worth noting that an organisation has evolved that combines fitness with cleaning our beaches. Responsible Runners started at Bondi Beach and has generated interested in other beachside places, an example of citizens taking responsibility where the packaging and retail industry will not.

The day's — the week's — deluge didn't seem to have diminished people's willingness to participate.


Bringing people together to share, trade, network and educate each other is something that has become a part of life at the Randwick Community Centre here on Munda Street - the place is known as Randwick Sustainability Hub for occasions like this. With its Permaculture Interpretive Garden, the Centre is becoming a multiuse place in Randwick that is accessible both to the northern part of the suburb and adjacent Maroubra.

If you missed today's event there's sure to be more in future — all you have to do is keep watching the events section of the website.

Story by Russ Grayson, 22 November 2013

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